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Gliding on the windless, glassy ocean

Robert Tuxson On Board The Uto Ni Yalo
Tuesday, April 03, 2012

WE have experienced periods of almost four knots where we made southwesterly progress accompanied by equal periods of less than one knot.

Rain squalls have been obvious on the horizon, but we have not been fortunate enough to encounter one.

A near-miss yesterday saw us prepared with rain catcher.

At latitude 03 degrees plus we are still experiencing bouts of the doldrums those breezeless hours that are accompanied by what seems a higher humidity and warmer air.

During the day, the sun's intensity reminds us what it must be like in a terrestrial desert!

Then last night at 0100hrs, something special happened. The sea turned glass! There was narry a ripple to be observed.

The only noticeable disturbance was the Uto ni Yalo as it sliced through the flat surface of the calm sea.

With a cloudless night sky comes myriad stars.

The Milky Way features as a swath of white through countless constellations. The brighter stars, often used as navigational pointers, actually reveal their reflections in this marine mirror! Flying fish (ika vuka) disturbed by the drua's passing propel themselves out over the surface with a burst of speed and quick flick of caudal fin. Their escape is highlighted by droplets of water that leave a trail in the rippleless sea and only cease when gravity intervenes.

As a result of the slow pace and calm seas, the six drua/vaka have been asked to rendezvous for some additional videography in the doldrums. As the Uto ni Yalo was setting the pace, we were asked to reduce speed and alter course for the sunrise summit!

We haven't been close to sister canoes since we left Santa Isabela.

Each captain is responsible for assisting his tradtional navigator in setting their own course. Seta checks in every evening with Master Navigator Captain Peia and gives him his calculated position based on ancient methods.

The Evohe (support filming yacht) brings with it Kate the current videographer and fresh frozen meat. Katie's job is to ride the wild zodiac between and around each vaka and our drua filming crews as they go about their daily chores replete in their PacificVoyager uniforms. The theme of the session was to be what crews "do" during doldrums! However the vagueries of Oceania weather kindly or unkindly (depending upon your perspective) intervened and the doldrums evaporated as fast as chocolate candy on a vaka! What took its place was winds......winds blowing in the right direction and with sufficient intensity to propel us at 7 knots and into adjacent rain squalls. Out came the rain catcher, in went the uniforms and the morning shoot dissolved into a rain bath. The more theatrically inclined did an impromptu "rain dance" while Kate sought shelter with me in the deck house! I had been banished there for not having my PV gear handy. That's what you get when you are too efficient and pack away what was thought to be unrequired gear until Tuamotus in your dry bag bottom too far out of arm's reach! We collected fresh water and Kate got her candid (well almost candid) shots.

Today dawned, marked by a milestone of sorts. We have been away from our loved ones since that sad, but yet happy, Sunday in January when we sang "Isa lei" in Nausori Airport that left not a dry eye in the reception area. The current crew has been away from their homeland for 72 days, the halfway point in our journey, as we expect to see the leading lights of Levuka sometime in early June followed by a second official welcome in Suva (Laucala Bay) the next day. What a sight it will be as the Uto ni Yalo leads the fleet of now seven vaka home. We can only imagine the thrill it will be as if we had won a gold medal for Fiji at the Olympics!

For some, the voyage will end there while others will complete the trip to Lautoka and then on to Honiara for the Pacific Arts Festival. For Master Mausio, known by his many friends met along his odyssey as Mario, it will mark his homecoming as we hope with fair winds to include the beautiful island of Rotuma on our return itinerary.

Rotuma has a rich maritime history with many of its sons taking to the sea in ships. It is a pity that the knowledge of Rotuma's ocean going sailing vessels has been lost or has it? Was there a large sailing vessel called a "koria" that Rotumans built? How was it constructed? What ancient Rotuman navigational terms still exist today? If you have any information leading to additional knowledge on this important subject, please contact FIVS.

The topic of our discussion today is purse seining. With it comes the interesting "what if" question. What would you do if you were expected to make a split second decision concerning the following? An encounter with fishermen from the purse seiner you had been observing from a distance.

We had that opportunity late yesterday afternoon and a decision was made. Was it the correct one? Would you have acted the way we did? Read on. But first what is a purse seiner? Is it the same as a long liner?

They have one malevolent thing in common. They indiscriminately catch a variety of marine life in their avaricious quest for tuna fish! The lesser of two evils is the long liner. As its name implies it uses a series of hundreds of stainless steel barbed and baited hooks that stretch for hundreds of metres and without an ecological conscience hauls in whatever hapless species bite the baited hooks. The Marine Park Rangers at Cocos Island have done an admirable job in policing their protected waters by confiscating kilometers and kilometers of lines and hooks and often impounding fishing boats and fining their crews. Many of us are privileged to wear a stainless steel hook bent closed as a symbol of solidarity with the rangers and our efforts at encouraging a cessation to this environmentally unsound practice.

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